Hip Hop Songwriting: Writing to Avoid Clichés | Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo | Skillshare

Hip Hop Songwriting: Writing to Avoid Clichés

Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, MC • Producer • Educator

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8 Lessons (14m)
    • 1. Class Trailer

    • 2. Overview: Class Project

    • 3. Structure of a Rap Song

    • 4. Picking a Topic

    • 5. Rhyming in a Rap Song

    • 6. Selecting "Good" Reference

    • 7. Writing for Impact

    • 8. Conclusion - Bringing it All Together

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About This Class

Since its inception in 1973, hip hop has become an indispensable creative platform for artists from every walk of life. Now you can try your hand at writing a topic-driven hip hop verse while avoiding the clichés that often appear in beginners’ rhymes. In this class, students will learn writing techniques for drafting a hip hop verse around a particular theme, while utilizing a variety of rhyme schemes. Students will walk away understanding the following:

  • How to select “good” references (and what is meant by “good”)
  • How to structure a verse to maximize its impact
  • How to avoid clichéd writing

For the class project, students will be provided with an original beat from upstate NY rapper and producer Sammus (NOISEY, Afropunk, Vice, Impose Magazine) and asked to write an 8-bar verse on a topic of the student’s choosing. This class is geared towards those with little-to-no songwriting experience but it may be helpful even to those who consider themselves to be proficient.The class will require recording a performance of the track (a rough version), which will require either access to a microphone,


1. Class Trailer: Hi, everyone. My name is a non go Lumumba Kasongo, but I'm probably more commonly known about my stage name Salmon. So for the past five years I've been producing and rapping and performing Osama us while pursuing my PhD at Cornell University. So between the rap thing and the PhD thing, I have a pretty good handle on words. One of the compliments I often receive about my music is that I'm able to take on commonly known or discuss themes and at a unique kind of spin or twist to it. So in this class, I want to teach you how to be able to do the same thing in your song writing. How can you talk about the same old veins but not do it in the same old way? You'll have a few brief assignments that will culminate in you writing eight bars about a topic of your choosing. So let's go ahead and get started 2. Overview: Class Project: So in this video, I'm going to be describing the class project for you. It's going to culminate an eight bar verse that you're going to be writing over a beat that I will be providing on the topic of your choice. So let's jump into the assignments. Assignment one is brainstorming. You're going to select a topic that is often written about a music like love, heartbreak or the pursuit of money and write down everything you can imagine about that topic, including any cliches that might come to mind. Assignment to is planning. You're going to write a paragraph about a personal experience that connects you to the topic. You will share this with the class to make sure it is something you feel comfortable revealing. Assignment three is writing. You're going to be drawing on your personal experience and write the to bar introduction to your verse using a beat provided by me. Assignment for is more writing. You're going to write another two bars that utilize at least one internal rhyme using the beat provided Don't worry, I'll explain what that means. Assignment five. You're going to be writing again and right in the last four bars using the beat provided assignment. Six. You'll be performing so you will either film a video or record in MP three of the eight barbers. Instructions and tips will be provided. An assignment seven is optional. You're going to write an entry on rap genius that imitates the eight bars. 3. Structure of a Rap Song: So in this video, we're gonna be talking about the structure of a rap song. So rap songs are typically structured around the increment known as the bar. You often hear rappers discussing spitting, Ah, hot 16. That refers to spitting 16 bars so you can think of a bar as one measure of a particular beat. Since I wasn't formally musically trained, I think it makes more sense for me to show you using the beef that she'll actually be using for your own class projects. I'm gonna play it right now, and I'm going to count and snap whenever a bar ends. 123 bar 123 bar 123 Bar 123 Bar. Another way that you can think of bars is that often in rap songs, two consecutive lines will have a rhyming word at the end. So when you hear two bars in a row, that often will be a rhyming word at the end that connects them. So, for example, my name is Sam Burgess, and I'm here to say that I go to work and I like to play, So that was two bars right there, so hopefully that helps 4. Picking a Topic: So in this video, we're going to be talking about picking a topic. As I've mentioned before, your class project is going to involve you writing eight bars about a topic of your choice . So because this class is about cliches, you should pick something that's often brought up in popular culture or music themes that deal with things like love or facing adversity. You're the pursuit of money, right? We often hear those topics come up and the movies and comic books and music that we love so much. So your first assignment is going to be to kind of brainstorm about all of the things associated with that topic. And then you're going to follow up with that by writing a paragraph for your second assignment about a personal experience that ties you to that topic. So now I'm going to demonstrate my process, and I'm going to pick the topic of facing adversity. So I'm going to write down every single thing that I can think of as it relates to the theme of overcoming adversity. Feel free to draw on anything you can think of movies, music, conversations, you've heard sayings, So the first thing I put down is when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. He fall down seven times. Get up. Eight often think of imagery of reigning versus sunny skies. You think of things like Never give up or imagery like Climbing Up a Mountain, The song Roar by Katy Perry starting from scratch or often superhero origin stories, and you want to make this list as long and as extensive as you need. So for my personal experience, I'll simply talk about losing all of the files on my computer in the summer of 2013. 5. Rhyming in a Rap Song: In this video, I will be discussing two different kinds of rhyme schemes. The first is end rhymes. It's pretty simple, and rhymes refers to rhymes that occur at the end of a bar. So, for example, my computer in my arms. Then it fell into hit the pavement. I come through the tech support now, they telling me they can save it so pavement and save it rhyme. They're both at the end of two bars. The next kind of rhyme scheme is an internal rhyme scheme, and this involves Raimi of words that occur within a particular bar with words in the following or preceding bar that are not necessarily at the end. Um, another way that this can be done is rhyming words within a particular bar itself. So let me provide you with an example of that in case it's too complicated, and this is considered to be a more sophisticated sort of rhyme scheme than the 1st 1 Because you're thinking about rhyming at multiple levels. The realists rhyme that I ever spit didn't have a dime at the time. I remember. It was rough. I was getting no cash until I had enough. I was Jenny Lopez. So in this you can see rhyme, dime and time rhyme with each other and then rough and enough rhyme with each other. Although they're not at the end of the bar. Another example is rhyming within one particular bar. So when I lost my presets Jesus, I was seasick. But losing everything was exactly what I had needed. So when the first bar you see presets Jesus, seasick. They had similar Rimes there, so that's another example of internal runs. 6. Selecting "Good" Reference: So in this video we're going to be discussing references. So when wrap, a reference refers to a literary device that helps connect a particular lyric with something outside of the specific details of you know, a song or a bar or reverse, Um, and this is often framed in terms of things like simile or metaphor, which I'm sure you're familiar with through your English classes on what's really important about references is that that's where it allows your character to show as an artist. So depending on what kind of reference you select, you can depict the type of person that you are. Are you geek? Are you a nerd or someone who grew up playing a lot of sports or someone who grew up heavily involved in certain communities? This is the place where you can really experiment with that because you're drawing on things that are special to you. Another part of why references are interesting and important is because they help you to actually break out of cliches. So, for example, when we're talking about love, it's very easy to fall back on like Romeo and Juliet or Beyonce and Jay Z. But pick something that references love that's unique to something you make sense over something that's interesting to you, right? So you can talk about, um, the love of Mario and mushrooms, right? That's kind of a love story. There s so you can really use references to experiment. And I'm gonna show you an example of something I've done. That kind of shows you the character of my sambas persona. So the rhyme is you can achieve it all. If you want it bad enough, you can be either a hot blast and now di Gatica. And so why selected this barn particulars? Because it goes along with the theme that I've picked a facing adversity but also because it shows my kind of love of this movie Gatica, which involves Ethan Hawke's character defying sort of his genetic inferiority. Or so it's claimed in the movie to end up being a great astronaut. And so people who hear this reference know that I love this science fiction movie and know that I love scifi. So now that you have a sense off how I go about picking my references, I wanted to provide you with some best practices for me about picking good references, and there's definitely varies from artist to artist. In my particular experience, I like to provide references that frame me as someone who's interested in the issues of black women as someone who's interested in the issues related to geek and nerd cultures. I think some artists are really interested in using kind of obscure topics or obscure references. But I like for people to really get what I'm talking about. So I don't want to pick anything that is too particular to me or my interests when it comes to picking my references. So some useful questions to ask might be is this reference based on something trendy? There's not necessarily a problem with picking a trendy reference, but keep in mind that in two years time in two months time, it might not make that much sense to people. So you really want to think about how big of an impact that thing that you're picking to reference will actually have in the long run. Another question that you might want to ask is who was my desired audience? If you're speaking to geeks and nerds, which is who I'm often speaking to that I know that I could talk about certain things. But if I'm trying to speak to a broader audience, then I might think about other references that are more commonly known. And then the last question and a very important one is what does this reference add to my track? Am I picking this reference just because it gives me cool points with a particular community? I would say that's not a good reason to figure reference, and you should pick a reference because it adds some kind of color to your actual bars. Something like that adds humor or that provides really great imagery for which you're discussing, or something that provides a certain emotional depth that you might not be able to capture if you're just sort of speaking about your own personal experience. 7. Writing for Impact: in this video. I want to talk about writing for impact. So when I talk about that, I mean the placement of your bars. Um, obviously, you kind of wanted to be a stream of consciousness and a nice flowing process. But sometimes it doesn't work out that way. And you come up with your best bars first or, um, other things kind of come up that change your writing process, and you end up structuring your verse after the fact. And that's okay, too, especially when you're first starting off. So just kind of a rule of thumb that I like to think about, especially when addressing a topic that's often talked about in popular culture. Music immediate is to start off by with my personal experience using I statements being vulnerable early on, which often hooks the listener like, Wow, this person is really opening up to me, and I don't even really know them, and they don't even really know me. I think that's a great way of kind of writing impactful bars, um, and then in terms of sort of placement at the end, I would say that's where you want to put your most clever stuff. If you have ah, bunch of internal rhymes, you really want to end with a bang, then you should put that towards the end. Or if you've managed to flip a cliche on its head, then that's where you want to put that interesting bar. So you never want to leave with sort of, ah, fizzling out. You always want to make sure that your hottest stuff is at the end. At least that's my approach, so I'll give you an example of that, using the same topic of facing adversity. So these are the last two bars of fizz verse about facing adversity. You can play it safe with your store bought Minute Maid, but I prefer the taste of my home made lemonade. So if you think back to the brain storming, one of the first cliches that I came up with was the idea that when life gives you lemons, then you make lemonade, and I think that's kind of a saying that a lot of people are familiar with. So I wanted to flip that on its head on and draw on the kind of power of that for these last two bars by bringing in the reference of Minute Maid, which is, of course, you know, purchased juice that you could get at the store and framing it against me, using those lemons to make lemonade so you can see why I ended my verse in this way because it's a flip of a popular cliche in an interesting way. 8. Conclusion - Bringing it All Together: So that brings us to the end of the course. I'm now going to be synthesizing the eight bars that I put together on the theme of facing adversity over the beat that you will be using to showcase your own bars that you're gonna be writing. So, um here it is without further to how my computer in my arms. Then they fell into hit the pavement. I conclude in tech support. Now they're telling me they can save it. When I lost my presets, Jesus, I was seasick. But losing everything was exactly what I had needed. You cannot achieve it all. If you want it bad enough you can be He's a heart blast Another gather go. Or you can play it safe with your store by men and made. But I prefer the taste of my home made lemonade. There you have it. Thanks so much for participating in this. And I hope that it was fruitful to you. As you start your journey and writing a song writing for rap, you confined my contact information along with all of the assignments and hope that this video will assist you as you're going through the different assignments. Feel free to reach out to me with questions and concerns. And I, of course, will be providing my feedback throughout. Thanks for joining me and thank you skills here by